(Sepsis; Septicemia)En Español (Spanish Version)
Blood poisoning is an illness due to an infection or its toxin spreading through the bloodstream. The presence of bacteria in the blood is called bacteremia.
Short bursts of low levels of bacteria in the blood usually do not cause problems. If bacteria continue they may cause sepsis. This is a serious condition which can lead to death.
Sepsis occurs when large numbers of infectious agents exist in the blood. Infections with fungi and parasites may lead to sepsis as well. The initial infection often comes from:
Blood Flow Near Burn Wound
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Bacteria can also enter the bloodstream directly from an outside source. A dirty needle used by an IV drug user can cause this type of infection. In some cases, the source of the infection is unknown.
Small amounts of bacteria enter into the blood with dental work or when brushing your teeth. Your body's immune system should fight off these bacteria.
These factors increase your chance of getting sepsis:
- Recent illness or hospital care
- Frail health due to extreme age
- Poorly working immune system due to:
- Medical treatment with an invasive device
- IV drug abuse
The first symptoms depend on the site of the infection.
As the condition progresses to sepsis, symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Low temperature
- Paleness of skin color
- Changes in mental status
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased urine output
- Low blood pressure
- Problems with bleeding or clotting
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If sepsis is suspected, the doctor will try to find the source of the infection.
- Several blood cultures to confirm the diagnosis of sepsis
- Urine and other blood tests to check for signs of infection
- Cultures of urine , sputum, stool, and other secretions to check for bacteria or other infectious agents
- X-rays —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body
- CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside of the body
- MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside of the body
- Other specialized tests depending on the source of the infection
This condition will need to be treated aggressively. Treatment is aimed at the cause of the initial infection.
Early treatment improves the chance of survival. Life-saving steps may be needed to assist breathing and heart function. Patients usually need to be observed in an intensive care unit.
IV antibiotics will be used to fight the initial infection and to clear it out of your blood. You will be given oral antibiotics when you leave the hospital.
Surgery is sometimes needed to remove or drain the initial infection.
National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Society of Critical Care Medicine
Communicable Disease Control Unit (Manitoba Health, Public Health Branch)
Bone RC. Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine . 1998 ed. St. Louis, MO:Mosby-Year Book, Inc.;1998.
Cecil RL, Goldman L, Bennett JC. Cecil Textbook of Medicine . 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA:WB Saunders Company;2000.
Conn HF, Rakel R. Conn's Current Therapy 2001 . 53rd ed. Philadelphia, PA:WB Saunders Company;2001.
Kasper DL, Harrison TR. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine . 17th ed. New York, NY:McGraw Hill;2008.
Mandell GL, Douglas RG, Bennett JE, Dolin R. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases . 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA:Churchill Livingstone, Inc.;2000.
Last reviewed March 2008 by Mark A. Best, MD, MPH, MBA
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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